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    If UCLA gig panned out, can Kobe Paras still be part of Final Four team?

    Apr 1, 2021

    NO. 11 seed UCLA scored a monumental upset in the 2021 US NCAA Tournament on Wednesday (Manila time), taking down East Regional No. 1 Michigan, 51-49, to reach the Final Four of this year's March Madness.

    The Bruins became only the second team to go from the First Four games to the Final Four. It was also UCLA's first appearance in the national semifinal since 2008, when it was led by future NBA All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love.

    As the history-seeking Bruins set a date against West Regional Champion and top-seed Gonzaga, a few SPIN.ph readers were quick to ask a curious question.

    Had Kobe Paras stayed in UCLA, would he have been a part of this Bruins team currently led by Vietnamese-American guard Johnny Juzang and coached by Mick Cronin?

    UCLA, after all, was the first school the second-generation star locked up with after his time at Cathedral High School, signing a National Letter of Intent in October 2015 before formally committing in November to then-coach Steve Alford.

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      That Bruins team was reeling from the departure of players led by sophomore winger Jonah Bolden, who elected to play professionally in Serbia and later found his way to the Phoenix Suns.

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      Still, Paras would have shared the floor with the likes of fellow freshman guard Lonzo Ball (drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers, now with the New Orleans Pelicans), sophomore court general Aaron Holiday (now with the Indiana Pacers), and freshman forward TJ Leaf (last played for the Pacers).

      Unfortunately, Paras withdrew from UCLA after failing to meet the academic requirements and missed out on the Bruins' run to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

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        Would he have been part of this Final Four-bound Bruins team had he stayed?

        With only four years of eligibility, the answer to the question is a hard no, meaning had Paras stayed with UCLA, his last chance for an NCAA tournament was in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the college league's entire season.

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        Still, the 6-foot-6 son of two-time PBA MVP Benjie Paras did have his taste of March Madness.

        From UCLA, Kobe moved to Creighton the following month and played his freshman season along with starting center and freshman Justin Patton (drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves 16th overall in 2017, now with Houston Rockets).

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          The Bluejays went 25-10 overall and 10-8 in the Big East to finish in a four-way tie for third place in the conference before earning a No. 6 seed in the Midwest Region.

          Unfortunately, sixth-seeded Creighton was upset by No. 11 Rhode Island in the First Round, 84-72, with Paras tallying three points and a rebound in two minutes of play in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

          That proved to be Paras' lone appearance in March Madness.

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          He soon departed Creighton for Cal State Northridge in April 2017 after being recruited by coach Reggie Theus. The move meant that he needed a redshirt year before being cleared to play for the Matadors in the 2018-19 season.

          But when Cal State Northridge parted ways with Theus in March 2018, that also spelled the end of Paras' run there as he went back home and committed to University of the Philippines in July later that year.

          In retrospective, had Paras stayed in Creighton, his senior year would have been in 2020 when the entire season was scrapped by the health scare.

          That meant he would have missed the Bluejays' Sweet Sixteen run this year, which saw the No. 5 seeds go deep in the West Regional before falling to No. 1 Gonzaga, 83-65.

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            Meanwhile, Paras would have been in his senior year this season had he stayed with Cal State Northridge. The Matadors, unfortunately, finished with a 9-13 record overall, 5-9 in the Big West Conference, a measly eighth place and failed to get a berth in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

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            On the flipside, his theoretical stay with Cal State Northridge would have put Paras side-by-side with Fil-Am Ron Artest III, the son of former NBA player Metta World Peace who is in his junior year with the Matadors this year.

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